DIY MFA Book Club: My reading list

So today’s DIY MFA Book Club prompt is about what we read as writers and is divided into two parts.

The first part is the “essentials” and these would be the three books that would have as you write if you could only have three — an anthology of short fiction, a book of prompts, and a craft book.

This is tricky. I don’t read a lot of anthologies, I don’t generally do prompts, and I have shelves and shelves of craft books. I’m going to work backwards.

My current must-have writing craft book is Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron. I read it last summer and it has been really transformative for me in how I think about developing characters and plot.

The more I have reflected on the ‘book of prompts’ I realized that the only place I have consistently turned to for prompts is Story A Day, which runs Story A Day May, in which prompts are posted each day and the goal is to write a story, however short or long, each day for the month (this has expanded to include September, too). I have never gone to prompt books to work on specific areas of my writing, as Gabriela described in today’s prompt, but I find it an interesting idea and I’m going to look into the suggested books and see if I find something that catches my eye.

And, as far as anthologies of short fiction go, there are a few good general anthologies of science fiction published every year, like Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year, so I would pick that.

The second part of today’s prompt is about building a short reading list of things to read in the short term. This list falls into a few categories. I still have some thinking to do, but a few things jumped out at me.

Competitive Titles (ones similar to what I am writing)

  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Contextual Books (research materials, etc)

  • The Design and Engineering of Curiosity: How the Mars Rover Does Its Job
  • The Cambridge Guide to the Solar System
  • On an ongoing basis, I read a lot of reports and news items from NASA and the other space agencies, as well as listening to briefings and podcasts.

Contemporary Books (recent books)

  • The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee
  • All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner


  • I want to do a re-read of the Rama series by Arthur C Clarke

2 thoughts on “DIY MFA Book Club: My reading list

  1. Another great place to get prompts / ideas is to participate in photo prompt challenges. I follow three of them these days and try to do at least one per week . The idea is to write a very short piece (100 to 200 words, depending on the group) based on that week’s photo. I keep writing what I think is just a microfiction piece and accidentally coming up for ideas for real short stories or even novels.

    Also, I love the rest of the “Story Genius” title. I’m feeling a bit maxed out on craft books right now, but I’m going to check that one out, thanks for the rec!

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